Dramaturgy and Other Mysteries – Toby Malone
Toby Malone is an experienced dramaturge and published academic. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama after completing his honours undergraduate degree in his home country of Australia. Toby has been a dramaturge for two shows this season with Soulpepper, and lends his expertise to our upcoming production of Arthur Miller’s classic play, Death of a Salesman.
Of all of the creative roles in the modern theatre, dramaturgy is the one that’s most likely to earn you a quizzical look at a dinner party. This mysterious, ever-changing process is never easy to define, and I have been lucky enough to join Soulpepper this year as dramaturge on two shows I’m very proud to have been part of (Oh What a Lovely War and Waiting for the Parade) and one more that’s just starting – Death of a Salesman – that is promising amazing things.
The dramaturge offers, amongst many other things, rehearsal room support, does copious amounts of reading, develops research packages, asks questions, poses problems, and acts as devil’s advocate on bits that “don’t seem quite right.” This week we started working on Arthur Miller’s monumental play and we have an eternity – seven weeks – to rehearse, which will go by in a flash, particularly when I consider how lucky we are to have such talent in the room. First reading yesterday, with assorted creative types, including composers, designers, stage management, directors, and, yes, dramaturges, reading in the roles that will be filled next week by the sublimely talented Soulpepper Academy members. Joe Ziegler and Nancy Palk as the embattled Lomans; Ari Cohen and Tim Campbell as the two sons, one lost, the other a lothario.
Even in a first read, tears flow, laughter rings out, Miller’s stunning craftwork already on display, which reminds us just why a playwright is called a playwright. This play is wrought from a higher plane, ordinary people that we all recognise, love, loathe, pity, glory, who exist in our lives and in ourselves in often painfully surprising ways. I have spent the last month in Miller’s world, re-reading his writings including his magnificent autobiography, Timebends, and his account of his landmark 1983 Beijing production. To build the production research package, I’ve waded through swathes of writings on the American Dream, father-son relationships, psychology, mental health, production histories, and interviews with figures like Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb, and Miller himself. It’s an epic mountain we are beginning to climb, but we’re thrilled to have the chance to scale it. I can’t wait to see what day three of rehearsal will bring.